This is a novel about family, and friendship. And darts.
Terry knew what was coming. He’d heard the rumours of course, talk amongst the lads on the shop floor and in the pub after work, but it was their faces that confirmed the truth. The faces of those that went in before him, as they came out, unstrung, already wondering how they were going to make the next month’s mortgage payment. Terry was luckier than most in that regard, he would at least get a bit of a pay-off; thirty years’ service surely counted for something. But he doubted it would get him much past Christmas.
The door opened and another shattered figure appeared through it. Terry tried to catch his eye, wanting to show sympathy, solidarity, but the man walked on in a trance. Terry knew him only vaguely; he’d been at the same table at the canteen a couple of weeks back, passing around a picture of his wife with their new-born baby. Terry had looked at the photograph out of politeness rather than curiosity; he could see how proud the man was. He was new to the firm, less than three months, he would get nothing.
Terry got to his feet, walked into the room, and shut the door behind him. As he turned to face the men behind the polished wood table, he saw Phil. And saw him look quickly down at the pile of papers arranged neatly in front of him, unable to meet Terry’s eye.
The man at the centre of the table cleared his throat. ‘Ah Terry,’ he said, ‘sit down. I think you probably know everybody, John from HR, and Bill from the Union. And, er, I asked Phil to be here too, as your immediate line manager. I know you two go back a long way.’
Phil looked up and nodded his head. Terry could see that Phil would rather have not been asked to be there. They’d been friends long enough for that to be blatantly obvious.
‘Yes, well, I think you’ve probably worked out why we’re here, and I’m terribly sorry, we all are, but ..’
Terry wasn’t really listening. Through the window the leaves were just beginning to change. A gust of wind blew some to the ground, and the low sun caught their colours as they fell.
‘So, yes, as I said I know this is difficult and we really are awfully sorry’. He paused, aware seemingly that Terry was paying him little attention. ‘Have you got any questions?’
Terry turned to Phil.
‘How long have you known?’
‘Well,’ said the man at the centre of the table, ‘we’ve been doing all we can to avoid this, but in the end redundancies were inevitable and ..’
‘How long have you known I was on the list?’ said Terry, still looking at Phil.
Phil tugged at the cuff of his shirt and shook his head, ‘I, well they only ..’
The man cut Phil off again. ‘Things …names, were only finalized very recently. As you can imagine it was very difficult.’
Terry nodded. He pushed back his chair and stood up. ‘I’ll see ya,’ he said to Phil, and walked out of the room.
Outside, the wind had picked up and it had started to rain. Terry opened his mouth and inhaled an enormous breath of damp air. What am I going to tell Pat? he thought.
9th January 1982
Terry stuffed the t-shirts he was holding back into the drawer and stood up with a groan, catching the back of his leg on the edge of the bed. As he snatched open the wardrobe doors the dry-cleaning bag containing his work suit stirred in the disturbed air, as though to mock him. The ticket showing the date when he’d dropped it off still visible through the clear plastic. Three months. Terry pushed it aside and unhooked the pink polo shirt he was looking for from the rail. He walked through to the living room without putting it on. Pat sat one leg crossed over the other in the armchair ready for work in her pale blue uniform and light tan tights, watching Jim’ll Fix It on the television.
‘Right, I’m ready,’ said Terry.
‘Well put your shirt on then, you’ll frighten the neighbours. I see enough of that at work.’
Terry slapped his large gut. ‘I bet you don’t see many bodies like this though eh?’
‘Not still breathing I don’t, no. Come on.’
Pat turned the television off and stood up from the sofa, poking her finger into Terry’s pale belly as he pulled the shirt over his head. On the left breast, embroidered in white cotton, was the profile of a stag’s head with ‘The White Hart’ sewn beneath it. On the back, in four-inch-high iron on letters, were the words BALD EAGLE in capitals.
‘You’ll look a right set of pillocks turning up at the Swan in those. You’ll be lucky to get out alive.’
‘It’s not that rough,’ said Terry, ‘Tom had them done at work, reckons it’s good advertising.’
‘Well, you’re definitely advertising something,’ said Pat laughing.
Pat drove, though she spent most of the short journey fiddling with the heating in the car and wiping the condensation off the inside of the windscreen with an old tissue, which quickly fell apart in her hands leaving bits stuck to the smeared glass.
‘What time does your match start?’ she said, stopping the car outside the front of the pub.
‘You’re a bit early, but I start at seven so I’ll have to drop you. See if you can get one of the lads to give you a lift home. I’ve left you some of that pie we had for tea in case you’re peckish when you get in.’
Terry cleared the side window with the back of his hand, wiping it dry on his jeans.
‘The curtains are still drawn. I don’t think they’re open yet, I’ll freeze.’
‘Well it’s a good job you brought a jacket then. Go on it’s five-to, they’ll open in a minute. I’ll see you in the morning.’
Terry got out of the car. Laughter echoed from inside the pub, and a chink of light seeped from the bottom corner of the curtained window. He tried the door, but it was locked. He stepped back and looked up and down the row of dark brick buildings, wondering whether or not to try one of the other pubs that stood on either end of the narrow street. Before he could make a decision, he heard the bolt slam back on the pub door and a sign above it flickered on, appealing to him to ‘Try Worthington’s Bitter’.
Terry pushed open the door and the laughter increased in volume, spilling out into the dimly lit street. Inside, the heat of the small room struck Terry in the chest wrapping him in a cloak of stagnant air thick with beery sweat and nicotine. A group of half a dozen or so men were sat drinking at a couple of tables pushed together beside the window. Judging by the debris in front of them, they had obviously been there all afternoon. Terry had been in the pub once before, ten years ago or more, and as far as he remembered, little of the layout or decor appeared to have changed. It was a one-room pub with the bar occupying the centre of the back wall, facing the door. A narrow passage led through to the toilets in one corner; the dartboard was tucked into an alcove in another. Five or six small round tables, their surface varnish stripped with wear, filled the remaining space. The once red, patterned carpet was worn smooth, and black from years of spillages and dirty boots.
As he entered, the men turned to look at Terry. One of them threw back what remained of his pint, picked up a further seven empty glasses from the table, and got to his feet. The man was tall, six four at least, with a massive chest and shoulders, and hands that made the pint glasses look like halves. He had grey white hair shaved short to his head, and a deeply lined face, with a great flat nose that looked to Terry like it had been broken more than once.
‘How do,’ said the man, as he and Terry crossed paths on their way to the bar. ‘What can I get you?’
‘You here for the darts?’
‘Yes,’ said Terry, just waiting for the rest of the team. Thanks.’
Terry picked up his pint from the bar and took it to a table against the side wall, away from where the others were sitting. He unzipped his jacket and went to remove it completely, but remembered the shirt and thought better of it. The group by the window were still talking and laughing loudly. He overheard one of them, a small wiry man with a hollowed-out face, say to the others in a thick Scottish accent,
‘I told him to fuck off or I’d chin ‘em.’
Terry took the top off his pint, and glanced at his watch. The door opened, but it was only another local. By the way he staggered in he looked like he’d been preparing hard at home for the session in the pub. Terry was two thirds of the way down his pint before Phil arrived.
‘Do you want another?’ Phil asked on his way to the bar.
‘No thanks,’ said Terry, picking up his glass but then putting it down again without taking a drink.
‘They look like they’ve had a few,’ said Phil, when he got back to the table with his pint. ‘Landlord seems a sweetheart though.’ He sat down and took off his coat, throwing it onto the seat next to him.
‘You haven’t got your team shirt on,’ said Terry.
‘No, I forgot.’
‘You’ll look an idiot, the only one without it.’
Phil eyed the room. ‘I think I’ll need to do more than that to look an idiot in here,’ he said, louder than Terry would have liked. The group around the table by the window bellowed over one another, cackling like hyenas at a watering hole.
‘How’ve you been?’ asked Phil, lowering his head to suck the froth of his pint, ‘busy?’
‘Oh yeah,’ said Terry, ‘what with washing my hair and tidying my sock drawer I’ve been run off my feet.’
‘Yeah, sorry,’ said Phil, ‘I just wondered – well you know, it’s been three months and -’
‘I know how long it’s been,’ said Terry. He took a pull on his pint and turned as the pub door opened. Tom and Dave came in.
‘All right fellas,’ said Dave, as the pair sat down and began removing their coats.
‘Bloody hell, where’s your shirts? I’m going to look a right prat, the only one,’ moaned Terry.
‘Yeah sorry,’ said Tom, scanning the room, ‘we thought it might not be the best idea in here. Thought we’d save them for the next round.’
‘If we survive,’ said Dave, with a grin. ‘Look on the bright side, you can be team captain for the night, take on the landlord. Though I’d go easy on him if I were you.’ The three men laughed.
‘Bastards,’ said Terry.
The landlord came out from behind the bar and made his way over to the dartboard. He flicked on a spotlight fixed to the ceiling that was angled to light up the board.
‘Right gents,’ he said, ‘shall we get started?’
Dave and Tom were already putting their darts together on the table, screwing the shafts into the pointed tungsten barrels and inserting the flights. Terry stood, and finally took off his jacket, dropping it onto the chair.
‘Nice shirt,’ shouted one of the men at the other table, and the rest of the group laughed.
‘Ok,’ said the landlord, ‘split your team into two pairs, each pair plays two matches, one point for a win. Then we’ll play three singles, so leave out your weakest man, point for a win again. Seven matches total, max, first team to four points, ok? Each match best of three legs.’
‘Right,’ said Phil to the others, ‘let’s see how it goes in the doubles before we decide who drops out in the singles - if it comes to that. Tom, you’re the strongest, you play first with Dave, I’ll play with Terry.’
‘I should play the singles, I’m the only one in the shirt,’ said Terry.
From the start Terry could see that the landlord was a decent player. And his height and reach made the board look two feet closer for him than for everyone else. But the Scotsman, clearly the worse for wear, was a liability. Tom and Dave won the match two legs to nil.
‘Cunt’ said the landlord to the Scotsman.
Terry, paired with Phil, played next, and won easily. One of their opponents, his arms a mess of blue ink, was so drunk that he missed the board entirely with at least half of his darts, while the other, an old man in a flat cap and thick glasses was no better. Terry and Phil stayed on to play their other match but somehow lost to the landlord and the Scotsman, much to the latter’s delight. Tom and Dave though won again to make the score three – one after the doubles.
‘You boys want a drink?’ said the landlord, ‘take a break for five minutes?’
‘I’m just nipping to the gents,’ said Terry.
He pushed open the toilet door and was hit by the acrid tang of disinfectant. Hockey puck disks of lurid pink and blue lined the base of the metal urinal that ran the full width of the bare brick toilet. Terry placed his feet to avoid the puddles of urine on the torn lino and unzipped his fly. He looked down, and then ahead at the flaking white paint covering the bricks six inches from his face. Eventually a weak, intermittent flow splashed into the urinal. A cigarette butt bobbed and drifted in the direction of the central drain, but stuck in a dam of sanitizer cakes. It felt good to release the pressure on his bladder. Running over the glossy blocks his pee picked up their colour, turning blue, and then pink. The door behind him slammed open against the toilet wall. Terry shook his penis and stuffed it back inside his pants, wetting his fingers in the process.
‘Hey bald eagle,’ said a slurred voice, and a hand slapped him between the shoulder blades. Terry managed to free his arms quickly enough to prevent his forehead from colliding with the brick wall. He turned and hurried out of the toilet, re-joining the others at the table.
‘Nice one boys,’ said Phil bringing over the last two pints and sitting down. ‘We only need one more from the singles, and they’ll play the landlord up first. You should take him on Tom, then if needed you go next Dave, I’ll sit out’.
‘What about me?’ said Terry, ‘I might not get another game.’
‘The quicker we get out of here the better,’ said Tom, picking up his darts.
At five-foot five, Tom was dwarfed by his giant opponent, whose colossal build gave the impression that he could throw Tom at the board as easily as he could a dart. Physically at least this was a mismatch, and Terry wondered whether Tom might be as well doing them all a favour by not winning. But it was not necessary. It was obvious immediately that Tom felt intimidated by the landlord, who appeared to deliberately stand in his eye-line each time it was Tom’s turn to throw. He lost the match two legs to nil; a result that looked in no doubt from the start.
‘Sorry,’ said Tom dejectedly as he joined the others at the bar.
The Scotsman threw back a short and leaped up to play the next match.
‘George,’ said the landlord, and the Scotsman sat down again.
Dave made short work of the old man, who was back in his chair sipping from his pint of mild almost before the last dart had landed.
‘Flippin’ ‘eck,’ said Terry, ‘I hardly played.’
‘Never mind,’ laughed Dave, ‘at least you looked the part.’
‘Good game,’ said Phil, extending his hand over the bar.
Terry was surprised to see the landlord take it.
‘Jesus,’ said Phil, when they got back to the table, ‘he nearly broke my fingers.’
‘Serves you right,’ said Terry, ‘he probably thought you were taking the piss.’
‘Anybody want another drink?’ said Dave.
‘No thanks,’ said Tom looking around the room, which had gained another half-dozen locals while they’d been playing darts, most of whom, Terry noticed, appeared to share the same barber as the landlord. ‘I think we should get out of here before there’s any trouble.’
‘Speaking of which,’ said Dave.
They all looked around to see the Scotsman weaving his way towards their table.
‘Any o’ you lucky bastards wannae drink? he spat, smacking his hand down on the table.
‘No thanks,’ said Tom, picking up his jacket, ‘we were just leaving actually.’
‘Agh fuck off and have a drink wi’ me you wee shite.’
Terry saw the landlord glance up in their direction and then begin making his way out from behind the bar.
Shit, Terry thought, and got quickly to his feet. But the Scotsman slapped a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down into his seat.
‘Sit down baldie and have a drink wi’ me.’
As Terry half turned and went to stand up again, the landlord appeared behind the Scotsman and lifted him off his feet, carrying him upright across the room before depositing him back onto his chair. The landlord then took a few strides over to the door and pulled it open.
‘Good night fellas,’ he said, ‘good luck in the next round.’
The four men were already heading for the exit, snatching up their darts and cases from the table and throwing on their jackets. They filed past the landlord, and he closed the door behind them.
‘Nice place,’ said Dave, ‘remind me to pop in again sometime.’
‘Yeah cosy,’ said Tom.
Before Terry could ask either of them for a ride home, Phil shook his keys. ‘Pat working, Terry? I’ll run you if you like.'
There was less than eighteen months between Terry and Phil, but it looked like more. Phil was six foot and lean, with a full head of dark hair and a moustache he was proud of to match. On a Sunday when he wasn’t fishing, he cycled with a local club, sometimes as much as sixty or seventy miles out into the country around Ashbourne and the southern parts of the Peak District. Terry, on the other hand, was short and significantly overweight. His gut, all bought and paid for as he liked to say, overhung the belt on his jeans, and but for an inch or so of thin blondish hair above his ears, he was bald. A thick roll of flesh at the back of his head rested snug against his shirt collar. Walking to the car, Terry had to scamper to match Phil’s stride, and though the distance was less than forty yards, he was breathing heavily when they reached it.
It was cold in the car. Terry sat hunched low in his seat with his head on his chest, his hands deep in his jacket pockets. The roads were slick and greasy with rain, the streetlights casting a bleary amber-yellow glow on the wet pavement.
‘What the hell is that?’ said Phil, as they pulled up in front of Terry’s house.
‘That sign, you can’t sell the house, you’ve always lived there. What does Pat think?’
Terry turned his head to look at Phil. ‘It was her idea mate. And we’ve had an offer already. If it goes through she reckons we’ll come out with a few grand and be able to buy a place on Langley’s, no mortgage’.
‘A caravan, Jesus you’re joking?’
‘Mobile home,’ said Terry, ‘static.’
Phil blew out his cheeks. ‘Shit, I didn’t realize things were that bad.’
Terry made no reply, but turned and got out of the car. ‘I’ll see ya,’ he said.
Fumbling with his front door key Terry realized that Phil had not yet pulled away. He was probably still staring shocked at the large ‘For Sale’ sign in front of the house. Inside, Terry slung his jacket over the banister post at the bottom of the stairs and walked through to the kitchen. Dennis, their fat black tomcat whined at the back door, and Terry let him in. ‘Hello matey,’ he said , ‘looks like it’s just the two of us tonight.’
A note lay on the worktop alongside a plate covered by a tea towel, and a small jug of gravy with a thin skin on top. Beneath the tea towel was a large portion of meat pie, a mound of mashed potato, and what looked like a whole tin’s worth of peas and baby carrots. Terry took a teaspoon from the drawer and stirred the gravy while he read the note.
‘There’s more pie in the oven if Martin gets back. Stick yours in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes. The gravy might need a stir. See you in the morning. P x.
PS Hope you won!
Terry poured the dark gravy over his meal and put it in the microwave. He fed the cat while he waited for it to heat up, and took a beer from the fridge. When the microwave pinged, he transferred the plate onto a tray, carried it through to the living room and began flicking through the television channels for something to watch. He’d missed The Two Ronnies, but settled on Match of the Day, and cut into his pie, releasing a cloud of pungent steam.
The following morning Terry sat slouched at the kitchen table in his dressing gown when he heard the key in the front door, and then Pat taking off her coat and shoes in the entrance hall at the bottom of the stairs. A moment later she came through into the kitchen. She kissed Terry on top of the head and slumped into her seat at the end of the table.
‘God, I’m knackered,’ she said, getting up again to flick the switch on the kettle.
‘I know love, I’m sorry.’
‘No, no,’ Pat said, cutting him off, ‘it’s not your fault Terry. It’s just I’ve been on my feet all night, I’ve not sat down. Martin ok?’
‘I’ve not seen him this morning. He’s still in his pit, the lazy sod. It’d help if he got himself a job, it should be easier at his age.’
Pat spooned a sugar into her tea, stirred it and sat back down. ‘Oh well’, she said, ‘you won’t have to worry about it much longer. He told me yesterday he’s not moving to the caravan with us. Pete’s offered him a room at his place.’
‘What? You’re joking. How’s he going to pay his way?’
Pat sat back in her chair clutching her mug to her chest, her face drawn and pale, but for half-moon patches of grey beneath her eyes. ‘I don’t know, but he’s twenty Terry. He needs his independence; he can’t stay under our feet forever. And anyway, it’ll mean we only need a one-bedroom caravan, cheaper.’ She paused and took a sip from her tea. ‘The agent called yesterday as well. Apparently that couple that came round last week has offered the full price for this place, cash, so the agent reckons the sale might go through in a couple of weeks or so.’
Terry exhaled, ‘Flippin’ ‘eck, I never thought it would come to this.’
Pat put down her mug and placed her hand over Terry’s. ‘Don’t worry love, we’ll be fine,’ she said.
She got up and took two slices of bread from the loaf in the bread bin and dropped them into the toaster. When they popped, she removed them and spread a thick layer of margarine on each. ‘I’m going to take these up love and get a couple of hours kip, I’ll see you in a bit.